Humanities Get A $16 Million Boost From Twelve Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grants

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced this week that it was awarding a total of $16.1 million in grants to twelve liberal arts colleges. The awards are part of what the Foundation is calling its Humanities for All Times Initiative, which was created to demonstrate the relevance of the humanities to a range of real-world social justice issues like racism, health inequities, environmental threats, and criminal justice reform.

In April 2021, the Foundation’s invited proposals from 50 liberal arts colleges for curriculum development projects in the humanities. It received 76 applications, from which the twelve winning proposals were selected by a jury of humanities scholars. 

A major impetus for the awards was the recognition that the humanities are seeing tough times across higher education. Universities have been cutting back on their humanities programs, and the number of college students majoring in the humanities has been declining for the past several years.

At the same time, students’ awareness and interest in social justice topics has been increasing. The Humanities for All Times initiative seeks to capitalize on that interest and show students the power of the humanities in understanding and addressing several of society’s most pressing current problems.

“The Humanities for All Times initiative underscores that it’s not only critical to show students that the humanities improve the quality of their everyday lives, but also that they are a crucial tool in efforts to bring about meaningful progressive change in the world,” said Phillip Brian Harper, Mellon Foundation Higher Learning Program Director. 

The twelve colleges receiving the three-year grants, which ranged from $1-1.5 million apiece, were

  • Austin College (Sherman, TX) for “Pathways to a Just Society,” which will generate over 30 new or re-designed courses and six community-based research and internship experiences involving the humanities, social justice and career readiness.
  • Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY) for “Rethinking Place: Bard-on-Mahicantuck,” which will develop a Native American and Indigenous Studies approach to the college’s American Studies curriculum. It also will help students acknowledge “the land beneath us,” as they learn about its history and continuing stewardship.
  • Colorado College (Colorado Springs, CO) for “Humanities for Our Times: From Epistemologies and Methodologies to Liberatory Creative Practices and Social Justice.” The grant will support professional development for humanities faculty involved with Colorado College’s new General Education curriculum and its ongoing work toward becoming “an antiracist institution.”
  • Fort Lewis College (Durango, CO) for “All Our Nations Language Revitalization Hub,” which will focus on Native concepts of animacy in language and encouraging Native and Indigenous language revitalization.
  • Kalamazoo College (Kalamazoo, MI) for “Humanities Integrated Locational Learning (HILL),” a project that builds on the college’s commitment to experiential learning and social justice and emphasizes the study of location and dislocation through various disciplines in the humanities.
  • Knox College (Galesburg, IL) for “Abolition for All Time: A Proposal for Civic Engagement and the Humanities,” a Humanities Lab that will promote curricular innovation emphasizing the study of “abolition” as both a legacy of Knox College and a lens to understand its future.
  • Macalester College (Saint Paul, MN) for “Mississippi River Watershed: An Immersive Humanities Curriculum,” a project to develop humanities-based educational activities that examine issues of race, environment and resource extraction along the Mississippi River.
  • Morehouse College (Atlanta, GA) for “Movement, Memory, and Justice: Building A Humanities Cultural Heritage Curriculum for Liberation,” an initiative to create an African-centered, multi-disciplinary curriculum that will help students understand injustices in America’s criminal justice system and assist them in efforts to address such inequities. 
  • Occidental College (Los Angeles, CA) for “Humanities for Just Communities,” a collaborative teaching and community-based initiative that will introduce incoming and first-year students to the power of the humanities in helping address health equity, migrant justice and freedom struggles.
  • Sarah Lawrence College (Bronxville, NY) for “Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment.” Faculty from Sarah Lawrence and Bronx Community College will rethink the humanities curriculum through the lens of climate and environmental justice.
  • Skidmore College (Saratoga Springs, NY) for “Africana Studies and the Humanities: Transnational Explorations in Social Justice.” The project will support the Black Studies Program and Racial Justice Teaching Challenge at the college. It will include the creation of new courses and undergraduate research opportunities.
  • Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT) for “Carceral Connecticut Project” which will develop new curricula. archival research, and public exhibitions, films and conferences that explore slavery, race, and industrialization in New England.

“Deep engagement with the humanities gives us insight into complex cultural landscapes across the centuries,” said Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. And she praised the “good hard work of wrestling with ideas and knowledge” that she expected the twelve grants to advance.

Established in 1969, The Andrew W. Mellow Foundation describes itself as “the largest supporter of the arts and humanities in the U.S.” It makes grants in four core areas:  Higher LearningArts and CulturePublic Knowledge; and Humanities in Place. In 2020, the foundation awarded grants totaling more than $417 million.


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